The strangest part for me is that if I looked back on how I felt about all of these things 6 months or a year ago, or two years ago, I wouldn’t recognize my current state. Well… maybe a year ago, by that point my ideas were evolving, and I had begun to shift my focus.
Here’s the complicated bit though. I know full well that nothing in this world that God created is inherently wrong. Nothing He has given us is errant on its own. We can misuse this life, or we can use it to bring us closer to Him, now. That's where I'm struggling. I feel like I want to completely distance myself from the world... to shut myself off in a little tiny box and stay there. Where no one is hurt and there isn't any pain to be seen. But it also would never lead me closer to Him. I was reminded recently that He who is in our hearts is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Christ is triumphant. God gives us the grace to turn from sin and be faithful to Him, here in this place, where it's messy and where there is so much pain. He gives us the chance to see how great He is when He works in the world.
The problem with thinking about heaven as something which comes only later is that we miss the times we can experience Him now. Catherine of Siena said “all the way to heaven is heaven because Christ is the Way” and that makes so much sense to me. We experience heaven and Christ when we are following Him. Heaven can be described as God containing us, whereas here, on this earth, now in the present time, we are called to be the temples of God, to be His dwelling place, and let His light shine through us. But that just the thing… those moments when I fell Him so strongly, holding me and filling me is an experience of heaven.
It’s not just that those moments are more than enough… because in my weakness I seem to always need more reminders of His presence and strength in my life. No, it’s not that those are enough for us to fully sense the love that God has for each of us, his children. But it would be more than enough for us if that were all there were. Because nothing of this world can compare to that indwelling.
Which is why I don’t understand atheism. Because even if this world were all that there is… even if there were nothing after this life. I wouldn’t trade the person I am now for the person I was two years ago. Even if this were it. Because being saved doesn’t just mean being saved from hell. It means that we are saved from the here and now, too. That we are set apart from this world. That, though we reside in the world, we are not contained by it, because our God is not contained by it.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never understood the reward-based mechanism we set-up to describe God and the afterlife. As if we can somehow earn a place in heaven. I understand theologically, that we are saved by works and grace. That the works would be impossible without the grace. And that faith without works is dead. But what I don’t understand is why the type of rewards-based thinking would really motivate anyone to do better.
I guess I’ve never been motivated to act in the here and now for anything other than the heard and now. It’s better now to choose God. Not just later. And I usually find that in the things that are built on a “wait… the reward comes later” mechanism in other things, too. I did well in school because I enjoyed learning, not because of the promise of a far off piece of paper. There’s a reason NOW to do good works for the kingdom. Good works are by nature good, and so have meaning and bear fruit now. Yes, there are times when I am certain that a current struggle or some sort of growth I am experiencing will be useful later, but that doesn’t detract from it’s use today. I guess I have very little patience and like to see the current benefit of my actions, though I realize that the consequences of a specific action may be more far reaching than I am currently viewing.
I am reminded that Satan will ultimately fail. As tempting as he makes the false pleasures he sets up for us in this world, the hunger that humans have for the experience of God is still there. And when one experiences that love, that power, one is forever left changed. Because even in the parts of this world that seem most controlled by Satan, the people are still hungering for God. I can’t lay claim to the idea that those people, despite the vice that they are seeking are truly reaching out to the Lord for help. The things of the world that bring them the closest to what they know of Good, they continue to seek. It us up to us to be the temples then, that they may come to see and experience God and to recognize Him.
So it’s difficult… because the hardest thing for me right now is to see people so wrapped in sadness who cannot see it themselves. Because Satan is smart- he has learned well how to set up something that will look like heaven. What else is our current society but the very best that humanity can offer on its own? We have well shown that we can have ALL of our material needs taken care of, and most of our wants. Not that the list of wants grows shorter as we near the end of the list, but that we have things that we take for granted today that our ancestors 100 or 200 years ago could have scarcely imagined. Sometimes, we are left to remember that we are not invincible. though we have made modern medicine into one of our gods, and money into another, we are sometimes faced with struggle that we cannot battle on our own. We occasionally come to moments when even the most atheistic recognize their powerlessness. That wasn’t the case when disease ran rampant, when hunger was encountered daily, if not in your own life, then in the life of someone you knew. People in these circumstances knew that they were not in control.
The hardest thing for me to do is to give that control back to God. To acknowledge that I am not in charge of anything other than my own will. To acknowledge that God is God and I am not. to acknowledge that I don’t know what God’s plan for my life is next year… and to be okay with that. I’ve grown a lot, because two years ago, I could have told you for certain that I would be teaching for the next thirty years. Because I was in control. It was my choice. And today? Well today, I’ve become, dare I say it, comfortable with the uncertainty.
The thing is, God will use me wherever I am, if I let Him. But I want Him not just to use me, but to use me to my best purpose. To use the me He created, and not the me I have tried to make on my own.